JUNE 16, 2023 — As the 88th Texas Legislative Session concluded their deliberations on Memorial Day in Austin, UTSA undergraduates Sebastian Gallegos and Victoria Kidder were in attendance, actively participating in the legislative process. Gallegos and Kidder served as interns with different Senate offices as part of this year’s UTSA Legislative Fellows Program.
The program provides students with hands-on policy experience and a chance to cultivate their leadership and professional development skills while working alongside legislative members from across Texas.
Students who participate in the program have the opportunity to work in prominent members’ offices at the Texas Capitol during the biennial regular legislative session. Students gain a better understanding of the state’s lawmaking and political processes by conducting research, writing position papers and policy memos, analyzing legislative proposals and meeting with stakeholders and community leaders, all while living and working in Austin. Gallegos and Kidder have resided in Austin since this year’s legislative session began in January.
The UTSA Legislative Fellows Program started in 2004 as a collaboration with former Texas State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon. The competitive program is administered through the UTSA Honors College, but participants are not required to be honors students. It is open to UTSA students of all academic levels and disciplines.
To make the program accessible, participants receive a stipend from the Honors College and the UT System to assist with housing, transportation and other expenses during their time in Austin.
“This program is a great experience, especially for our students with an interest in politics, public policy or service,” said Kristi Meyer, assistant dean for special programs in the Honors College. “Over eleven thousand pieces of legislation were filed by Texas lawmakers during the 88th Session, so this is a fantastic opportunity for our students to get an in-depth look at the legislative process and collaborate with our state representatives.”
Gallegos, a senior studying finance, worked with Texas State Senator José Menéndez during his time working at the Capitol. As a pre-law student, Gallegos was excited to get a closer look at the inner workings of how Texas laws are made.
“The opportunity to engage in the creation of amendments and participate in negotiations was invaluable,” Gallegos said. “This experience not only honed my writing and analytical skills but also opened my eyes to the tangible impact that the legislative work has on San Antonio and the entire state of Texas.”
Gallegos was inspired by the meaningful work he completed while in Menéndez’s office, despite initially being wary of the partisan nature of politics.
“We never hesitated to advocate for what we believed was right, and although not all of our proposed amendments were successful, many of them were,” he said. “I have no doubts that I will return to the legislature, driven by the knowledge that the work carried out there can bring about real change.”
Kidder is a junior majoring in political science and economics who worked with Texas Senate Finance Committee Chair and State Senator Joan Huffman.
Her interest in politics first began in middle school when she joined student government. She saw the Legislative Fellows Program as a chance to further explore this interest while living in a new city.
“I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a legislative fellow since I enrolled as a student at UTSA,” Kidder said. “I knew this program would be the perfect opportunity to serve the state of Texas while simultaneously learning more about the legislative and policymaking process.”
Kidder, an aspiring lawyer, credits the program for helping her hone a transferable skillset that she can take with her as she builds a career in law.
“Working in the legislature can help you gain and develop a lot of useful and versatile skills, whether it be effective communication, efficient organizing or keeping track of lots of little details,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about certain legal jargon, statutes and how different agencies in Texas operate and coordinate with one another. Working for Senator Huffman has been especially eye-opening given that she was once a practicing attorney and district judge herself.”
The Legislative Fellows Program prepares career-ready Roadrunners by providing an immersive “learning-by-doing” experience where students expand their education beyond the classroom and explore the state’s political system in real time. It is just one of many unique learning opportunities that give UTSA students an advantage.
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